Peter Oborne: The remarkable Baroness Cox – loathed by Azerbaijan, loved in Armenia. And back there as war rages.

2 Dec

Baroness Cox at the Armenian Genocide Memorial in front of the eternal flame

Peter Oborne is a columnist for Middle East Eye. His books include Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran and Wounded Tiger: A History of Cricket in Pakistan.

Ali Kemal was a Turkish journalist and politician noted for his pro-British views. He came to an unpleasant though courageous end when he was murdered by a mob after condemning the mass killings of Armenians in what has become known as the Armenian genocide.

After his lynching, the mob inscribed the phrase Artin Kemal in blood on his chest. “Artin” was a common Armenian name.

Today, Ali Kemal would probably be rolling in his grave at the inertia of his great grandson, Boris Johnson. The Prime Minister has said and done nothing to help Armenia in its latest conflict with Turkish-backed Azerbaijan.

Johnson has solid reasons. Azerbaijan has oil. Armenia does not. Total trade in goods and services between the UK and Azerbaijan was £1.1 billion in 2019. Turkey is a fellow member of NATO and important ally.

And even if the Prime Minister had followed his great-grandfather’s example, it would have made little or no difference. Britain does not have the capacity to come to the aid of a tiny landlocked nation squeezed between Russia, Georgia, Iran, Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Armenia’s geographical predicament does not just explain Britain’s silence in the 44 day war between Azerbaijan and Armenia which ended three weeks ago.

It also accounts for the shameful fact that Britain has never acknowledged the Turkish genocide of more than a million Armenians just over a century ago.

The United States, Israel and many other countries won’t do so either.

No wonder the Armenians feel so friendless and bereft. And no wonder Britain – and much of the West – is becoming unpopular in Armenia.

When I reported on an anti-government demonstration in Yerevan two weeks ago, I was unwelcome among sections of the crowd.

One protester shouted “Fuck Britain!” at me as I interviewed local people. Another repeatedly harassed me to explain in no uncertain terms that “Britain has let Armenia down”.

My Armenian companion felt the need to tell numerous protesters that I was a journalist reporting on events, and not a representative of the British state.

But there is one British politician who has indeed stuck up for Armenia through thick and thin.

She is the remarkable 83-year-old Baroness Cox. The Baroness was awarded her peerage by Margaret Thatcher 40 years ago, for her brave role in taking on Marxist agitators as a sociology lecturer at the Polytechnic of North London.

On one occasion, Baroness Cox was aggressively manhandled in the classroom. “I was standing on a table refusing to stop a seminar. I told them they’d have to carry me out, which they did.”

This principled stand brought her to national attention. The legendary Times newspaper columnist, Bernard Levin, devoted no less than three consecutive columns to her fight for academic freedom.

Since then, the doughty Baroness has made no less than 88 visits to Nagorno-Karabkh.

I saw for myself how she was loved in Armenia, when I accompanied her on her most recent trip last month, made at the invitation of the Armenian government which paid some of our costs. (For a part of the time, we were accompanied by an Armenian official.)

The Baroness is revered. She is a nationally known figure who has done more for Anglo-Armenian relations than any other British politician.

During the first Nagorno-Karabakh war, she flew in many times under artillery fire to deliver aid. Today, her charity supports a rehabilitation centre in Nagorno-Karabakh’s main city, Stepanakert. Originally founded to cater for the many injured veterans of the first war, the centre provides support for all kinds of disabilities – and had to quit Stepanakert in a hurry after it was shelled. We met her committed team of approximately 30 medics and physiotherapists in the Armenian capital of Yerevan instead.

Here’s one episode which illustrates the love – affection is too weak a word – with which Caroline Cox is held.

Stopping off at a restaurant for lunch, we were met by a man who had heard by chance that the Baroness was in Yerevan. He had come specifically to talk to her.

Visibly emotional, he explained that they had met almost three decades ago on the 30 July 1992, when Armenia and Azerbaijan were engaged in their first war. The man was then a second year student and soldier who had been wounded in the fighting. The Baroness, who has trained and practised as a nurse, visited him and other soldiers in a basement in Stepanakert.

“You hugged me and you held my hands. They were covered in dirt and blood,” he said Badoyan, tears in his eyes. “When everyone abandoned us, toy arrived to help. You gave us all a lot of hope. I’ve waited 28 years to say thank you.”

It was humbling to watch the two embrace.

The Baroness has been agitating in the House of Lords for Britain to take a much more robust stance on the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh.

At present, her burning priority is the release of prisoners of war. “We have watched video evidence of horrible brutality inflicted on prisoners, including torture, beheadings and mutliations”, she says.

The Baroness is also calling for the protection of Armenian cultural and religious sites that have come under Azerbaijan’s control following the ceasefire agreement, as well as increased humanitarian aid.

“More than 14,000 civilian structures – homes, schools, hospitals – have been damaged during the conflict. We need an urgent plan of economic support,” she says.

There are two sides to every conflict, and it’s important to stress I did not visit Azerbaijan and hear its side of the story. According to reports from Human Rights Watch, there is evidence of both Azerbaijaniand Armenianforces using illegal cluster munitions against civilians.

According to Azerbaijan, Armenia “resorted to the brutal tactic of terror by deliberately targeting large civilian settlements of Azerbaijan … with heavy artillery and missiles, including ballistic and cluster munitions.”

It says that evidence of “reckless attacks of Armenia on civilians and civilian infrastructure” amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Baroness Cox’s support for Armenia has not gone unnoticed by Azerbaijan.

The Azerbaijan Ambassador to the UK, Tahir Taghizade,sent a letter to Baroness Cox shortly before the latest conflict broke out stating that her language reminded him of the “inflammatory rhetoric used by the Armenian propaganda”.

Shortly after the ceasefire was agreed, the embassy released a statement regarding the Baroness’ trip last month.

It accused her of supporting “the separatist puppet regime illegally established by Armenia in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan” and called her visit “disturbing”, “disruptive in nature” and not in line with the UK government’s official position “which recognizes Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and welcomes the signing of the document ending the fighting

Baroness Cox’s response said: “members of the House of Lords reserve the right to hold conversations with interested parties in any given conflict, and also reserve the right to hold opinions that differ from those of the official UK government position.”

And that: “Members concerned with the actions and history of Azerbaijan towards Armenians will continue to monitor the situation and, where applicable, support the internationally recognised precedent for self-determination.”

In a victory speech, the Azerbaijani president, Ilham Aliyev, referred to Armenians as “savages”. He describes his victory in the one-sided conflict against the under-equipped Armenian army as the destruction of “Armenian facism”.

Such pronouncements will do little to assuage concerns for Armenians that their latest defeat is not an end to trouble in the region whose security is currently in the hands of Russian peacekeepers.

Baroness Cox is adamant that the only way to secure the long-term future for Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh is to recognise its independence. But with Azerbaijan securing vast swathes of territory in the region, and little international support for Armenia, this looks unlikely.

It’s easy to dismiss the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as a far away war with which Britain has no reason to get involved. But whichever side you take, there’s no question that Baroness Cox’s long involvement in this troubled area has served as witness to the terrible troubles faced by the beleaguered Armenian people. She has helped keep their story alive during a time when few others in the west have done so.

I can’t help feeling that Boris Johnson’s great grandfather, Ali Kemal, would approve.

The Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust, of which Baroness Cox is director, covered a substantial proportion of my expenses.

Daniel Hamilton: From Europe to Iran, what a Biden foreign policy will look like

10 Nov

Daniel Hamilton works in international business consultancy and was a Conservative candidate at the 2017 General Election.

On January 20th, Joe Biden will take office as President of the United States. First elected to public office in 1972, his length of tenure in public office is striking.

He first joined the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee in 1973, when Mao was Chinese premier, Willy Brandt was Chancellor of West Germany, Tito ruled Yugoslavia, and Brezhnev was premier of the USSR. The foreign policy universe Biden cut his teeth in was one still framed by carnage of the post-World War Two order; far removed from the less clear threats we see today from organised terrorist groups and non-state actors like ISIS. Asia and Africa were then economic minnows.

Given the length of his record, a number of conclusions can be drawn about how Biden is likely to approach foreign policy challenges and the projection of US power on the world stage.

In Washington DC, the cache of “Europe” as a foreign policy focus has been gradually declining since the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s. With the long-term US policy ambition of seeing swathes of Eastern Europe admitted to NATO and the European Union realised, recent administrations have deprioritised European affairs to instead focus on strengthening US ties with fast-growing Asian markets.

Biden’s history of involvement in European issues is likely, however, to see a slight shift of US attention back to the continent. He was a senior member of Senate Foreign Affairs committee during the collapse of the USSR, the reunification of Germany, and Yugoslavian conflicts, where he was one of the key cheerleaders for the allied intervention in Kosovo. His decades-long relationships and interest in flashpoints such as Georgia, Kosovo, Bosnia, and Ukraine will de facto represent in an upgrade of White House interest in European security policy.

Biden has always been a supporter of multilateral institutions – be they NATO, WTO or EU. Power blocs of this kind have, according to his worldview, led to collective action and pressure for positive change. To this end, it would be fair to conclude that Biden sees no particular upside to Brexit and has concerns about its impact upon the Belfast Agreement.

Despite fears in some quarters, a trade deal with the UK remains an easy win for any US President. Indeed, one could conclude that a Biden administration is less likely to push for the inclusion of some of the more politically-controversial health service and food hygiene aspects of the deal that the Trump administration were alleged to be keen on; making its passage simpler on a UK level.

The issue of US-Russia relations has been one of the reoccurring sagas of the Trump administration, with the outgoing President having been accused of kowtowing to the Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. While Donald Trump reluctantly maintained sanctions under huge political pressure from Congress, Biden was one of the leading forces behind their initial implementation during the Obama administration and has been sharply critical of Russian operations in Syria.

While one should expect a further deterioration of relations with Moscow in the coming months, his record of dealings with Russia as a Senator is instructive. While he was repeatedly critical of domestic human rights abuses against political dissidents and Chechen separatists, he quietly championed a USSR-US deal on nuclear arms controls as far back as mid-1970s, resulting in a strengthened Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty that curtailed ballistic missile manufacturing in both countries. Biden is willing to negotiate – but to extract a price. This is how relations with Russia will be framed.

Arguably the boldest foreign policy decision taken by the Trump administration was its decision to withdraw from the P5+1 Agreement aimed at normalising political and economic relations with Iran. While the outgoing administration framed their opposition to the agreement on the grounds of it being excessively favourable to Iran, Biden will likely recommence of US engagement with its structures. The Republican-run Senate will do its best, however, to erect legal roadblocks designed to stall aspects of the deal related to trade and the lifting of sanctions.

On the broad topic of trade policy, Biden’s record shows him to have been broadly committed to freer trade and has opposed most tariffs. He backed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, voted for the North American Free Trade Agreement and China’s WTO accession. Given his close links with the trade union movement and the emphasis his campaign placed on winning industrial states like Pennsylvania and Michigan, it will be interesting to see his past positions reconcile with growing US public sentiment towards protectionism in the Covid-19 era.

The future of US-China relations remains the biggest question mark hanging over the incoming administration. While Biden opposed the rolling tariffs Trump has imposed on Chinese imports into the United States, he has similarly been sharply critical of Chinese intellectual property infringements and state subsidies that harm US competitiveness. He has also described President Xi as a “thug” – a pointed remark for a politician who has tended to value velvety prose over confrontation.

Climate change policy – another likely area of tension between the US and China in the coming years – will receive a significant upgrade under Biden. He has already announced intention to return to 2015 Paris Agreement from “day one” of his presidency. Given the importance to the UK and the post-Brexit ‘Global Britain’ narrative, securing a successful outcome from COP26 is a key priority. An engaged, enthusiastic US presidency will help rather than hinder this objective.

If environmental issues represent the biggest schism between the Trump and Biden administrations, a noticeable area of agreement between the two men is their shared aversion towards neo-conservative foreign policy positions. While Biden voted for early stages of Iraq war, he shares Trump’s scepticism of military interventions. Under Biden, the likelihood of US troops being sent to Syria or Iran is highly unlikely.

Similarly, one can expect a Biden presidency to adopt a similar policy agenda in respect of Israel. He has been a long-standing champion of US military and financial aid to Israel and has, notably, stated that he will keep the US Embassy in Jerusalem. The difference between Trump and Biden rests on the issue of the realisation of an independent Palestinian state. Biden has long favoured a two-state solution while Trump, despite pushing policy proposals that would essentially realise that objective, has shied away from using the term.

In Latin America, a Biden administration appears likely to follow a similar path to Trump, yet placing a stronger focus on environmental and human rights concerns. He has publicly backed Juan Guaidó over Nicolás Maduro as the legitimate President of Venezuela and has stressed his willingness to build relations with Jair Bolsonaro, the Brazilian President, while raising concerns about his administration’s policies towards the Amazon. If an area of tension between the outgoing and incoming administrations is to be found, it is likely in respect of Cuba, where Biden will likely seek to restart US-Cuba talks on a reset in political and economic relations.

Despite his willingness to negotiate, Biden’s record of public pronouncements – be it in furious opposition to apartheid-era South Africa, anger at Milošević’s butchery in Yugoslavia, or fury at the murder of Jamal Khashoggi – have long positioned him as one of the foremost human rights-focussed politicians in America. Those sentiments will guide him in office.

In conclusion, when it comes to foreign policy issues, Biden is a pragmatist rather than an ideologue; a widely experienced negotiator who prefers playing the long game to the pursuit of quick wins that fail to yield results. Multilateralism, not unilateralism, is the Biden way – and it will guide US foreign policy over the next four years.

Garvan Walshe: How to shape UK foreign policy for the Biden administration

5 Nov

Garvan Walshe is a former national and international security policy adviser to the Conservative Party. He runs TRD Policy

As I write, it is almost certain that Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States. He leads in Nevada, Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, and could yet overtake Donald Trump in Georgia.

Without Georgia, his electoral college margin would match Trump’s against Hillary Clinton’s (and hang-on margins as thin in key midwestern states). Counting in Pennsylvania will take a little longer, but postal votes appear to be sufficiently in his favour to allow him to narrowly carry the state. Recounts and litigation may slow down a final result, but it’s hard to see how Trump can overturn this lead. Bush v Gore in 2000 this is not.

However, elections for the Senate aren’t however going so well for Biden. Republicans will probably retain their majority, and therefore be able to block his domestic legislative agenda. Stymied at home, Biden, once a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, will have far more freedom in foreign affairs.

But he will have his work cut out.

Trump gutted the State Department, failing to appoint the political staff to which he was entitled, and doing nothing to prevent an exodus of career foreign service officers. Biden will have to put it back together.

The new President will also have to show how he can deliver for the Midwest that so narrowly put him in the White House. So though he’ll keep the United States in the WTO, he can be expected to lead an extremely tough trade policy.

This clashes with his other main policy goal – to repair relationships with America’s democratic allies and rebuild the international system. Expect strong gestures of support for NATO and South Korea, both neglected by Trump, and a restoration of good relations with the EU. Like Trump, he’ll want its members to spend more on defence; whether his more conciliatory approach will meet with more success is another matter.

Nevertheless, a Biden administration will remove the main source of instability in international affairs that has bedevilled the UK’s attempt to find a foreign policy role after Brexit, and given any attempt to give definition to “Global Britain” an air of unreality. After all, how can a medium-sized power contribute to a rules based international order when the existing superpower seems determined to destroy it, and the emerging one, in Beijing, to bend it to its own imperial ends?

The return to stability gives the UK the chance to define its national interests outside the EU. While a substantive trade deal with the US is likely to be extremely difficult, contributing to the defence of the Baltic and Eastern Europe (particularly in maritime and air theatres where the UK still has relevant capacity), support for America’s return to the Paris Climate Change Accords, and even sparking a renewed effort to prevent Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, are all ways the UK can work with the US and European partners to contribute to international stability.

Britain can also act alongside the US, the other Five Eyes powers, Japan, and major European nations including France and Germany to craft a strategy to counter Chinese expansionism. It will, unfortunately, also need to continue cooperation in the fight against Islamist terrorism, which has not receded as a threat, as the recent attacks in France and Austria have shown.

If Biden does indeed win, Britain will find a familiar foreign policy world that it can work in. Though it is hard to see how the UK can be a global full-spectrum military power without spending far more on defence than is currently contemplated, and direct involvement in EU defence structures is out of the question, it can slot into a space as a “Bigger Sweden”: an independent-minded, respected, capable, and effective part of the international system. Britain is a nuclear power, a permanent member of the UN Security Council (not to mention a key supplier of defence equipment), and leading participant in the multilateral efforts in support of international peace and security that a Biden administration would like to promote.

If this is is not the most romantic vision available, it is at least commensurate with the resources the UK is willing to deploy. If the White House would be delighted by a large and sustained increase in UK defence and security expenditure, that is hardly something that can realistically be sold to furloughed voters closer to home.

A medium-sized power like the UK depends on international structures to exercise power on the world stage. Biden would restore them, and it should be our duty to be present at their recreation.

Tobias Ellwood: The Government has helped to let Iran, a rogue state, off the leash. It’s time to rein it back in.

28 Oct

Tobias Ellwood is Chair of the Defence Select Committee, and is MP for Bournemouth East.

Javad Zarif, Iran’s Foreign Minister, was in a celebratory mood last weekend, as the United Nations’ long-standing arms embargo quietly expired. The occasion, in accordance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal, was deceitfully proclaimed as a “win for…peace and security in our region”. This could not be further from the truth.

In reality, Iran is now unencumbered in its ability to purchase advanced weaponry to strengthen itself and its terror proxies, including Russia’s game-changing S-400 missile defence systems, and upgrading its outdated air force. Such systems would provide Iran’s nuclear programme with invaluable strategic protection.

It is for this reason that I have joined over 80 of my Conservative parliamentary colleagues in signing a letter outlining our concerns to the Prime Minister, coordinated by Conservative Friends of Israel.

The strength of feeling among the Conservative ranks is clear to see. There has long been widespread concern about Iran’s malign activities throughout the region, but it has become increasingly apparent that the UK’s response has failed to adequately meet the challenge.

The signatories were united in their view that the United Kingdom should have supported the efforts of the United States to secure an extension to the conventional arms embargo at the United Nations in August.

While recognising the political balancing act necessitated by ongoing Brexit trade negotiations, I fear that the UK’s abstention alongside France and Germany has regrettably facilitated the Chinese and Russians in their quest to sell advanced weaponry to Tehran’s fundamentalist regime. China has reportedly agreed a 25-year $400 billion defence deal with Tehran.

There are major questions hanging over the UK’s strategy towards Iran moving forward. While the EU arms embargo regime on Iran remains in place (until 2023), this will not prevent other actors from selling weapons. Certainly, existing UN resolutions haven’t deterred Iran from supplying arms to its terror proxies, and the UK now needs to work urgently with its allies to enforce existing resolutions more rigorously.

Iran’s support for terrorism has left a trail of destruction and death across the world. From Buenos Aires to Jerusalem and Bulgaria to Yemen, Iran-backed terrorists have killed untold numbers. Iran is not just a threat to Britain’s allies and international peace and stability – it has been linked to the deaths of dozens of British service personnel in Iraq.

Looking ahead, there needs to be a clear-sighted approach to Iran from the Government.

From continuing to enrich uranium closer to weapons grade above the JCPOA limit and increasing its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to ten times higher than permitted, Iran’s flagrant breaches of its commitments under the JCPOA has confirmed that the deal is not fit for purpose.

Time and again, Iran has chosen the path of a rogue state. At the time of the JCPOA’s signing, British officials spoke of an opportunity to reset relations. Iran had no such intentions, as most dramatically illustrated by the detention of our Ambassador for attending a memorial to the victims – including Britons – of a Ukrainian passenger jet in January. Not to speak of the continued imprisonment of British nationals on spurious and indefensible grounds.

Iran’s leadership has not earned the benefit of the doubt. The UK’s ongoing efforts to keep the JCPOA on life-support since triggering the Dispute Resolution Mechanism is not a sustainable strategy, just as the UK’s INSTEX mechanism to facilitate trade by circumventing US sanctions has essentially rewarded Iranian non-compliance.

Our Prime Minister was right when he said in January that the JCPOA has “many, many faults”, and called for a replacement deal. So, too, was the Foreign Secretary right to describe the nuclear deal as a “hollow shell”. Now is the time for UK policy to align with these statements of reality.

The UK is well placed to bridge the US with the EU and push for a new, broad framework. The framework must provide unprecedented regulation of Iran’s nuclear activities, an end to Iran’s support for terrorism and its ballistic missile programme – the primary means for delivering a nuclear warhead.

How do we ensure Iran returns to the table? It is an unavoidable reality that Iran was compelled to the negotiating table for the JCPOA process as a result of one of the most comprehensive sanctions regimes in history. The UK has introduced a welcome set of sanctions against Iranians linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, but has desisted from the US ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions campaign.

Sanctions work, and it is time for the UK to consider further ones it can target against the regime, while making abundantly clear that these do not apply to legitimate humanitarian aid. Snapback of pre-JCPOA sanctions ought to be under consideration and would be in full accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231, as necessitated by Iran’s “significant non-performance”.

The continued resuscitation of the JCPOA despite Iran’s clear non-compliance is not only short-termist in thinking, it is fundamentally ill-considered. The framework has been fatally damaged for some time and the focus must now be on diplomatic efforts to secure a strengthened, broad deal.

Iran’s defiant advancement of its nuclear programme now risks proliferation across the Arab world, at a time where hitherto unthinkable peace deals are being agreed between Israel and Arab states.

We are at the beginning of a new chapter for the region – one based on prosperity, shared interests and peace. But unless the UK readjusts its current thinking that chapter may never get written.

The Government’s Integrated Review is about re-establishing our post-Brexit global credentials and our desire to help shape the world as a force for good. This must include greater strategic engagement in the Middle East and standing up to the destabilising actions of the Iranian regime.

Peter Oborne & Jan-Peter Westad: Conservative MPs with Muslim constituents are starting to speak up about Kashmir

26 Oct

Peter Oborne is a columnist for Middle East Eye. His books include Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran and Wounded Tiger: A History of Cricket in Pakistan. Jan-Peter Westad is a freelance journalist.

This week marks the 73rd anniversary of Jammu and Kashmir joining India. The region has been a source of bitter dispute between India and Pakistan ever since.

In India, October 27 will be celebrated as “Accession Day”. But in Pakistan, and for many Kashmiris, it is known as Black Day.

With Narendra Modi’s treatment of Kashmir becoming steadily more brutal, commemorations this year will be sombre.

Kashmiris have been under heavy restrictions since India revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir on 5 August last year.

This status had given special privileges to permanent residents of Kashmir, including state government jobs and the exclusive right to own property.

It was designed to protect the state’s distinct character as the only Muslim-majority state in India.

Many of these rights have since been undermined by further legal changes. Government jobs that were previously reserved for Kashmiris have now been opened up to Indian citizens. It has also been made easier to revoke residency rights.

With the outbreak of coronavirus, heavily armed police line the streets in ever greater number. Following a communications blackout at the time of the revocation last year, internet access and other means of communication remain limited.

With the outbreak of coronavirus, heavily armed police line the streets in ever greater number. Following a communications blackout at the time of the revocation last year, internet access and other means of communication remain limited.

Journalists, too, face harassment and imprisonment. Nearly 400 journalists & civil society members have called for the release of Kashmiri journalist Aasif Sultan who has been in jail for more than two years.

Only last week, the office of the Kashmir Times, an English-language daily newspaper, was sealed off by Indian officials.

Properties have been destroyed and innocent people are losing their lives. According to human rights organisations, between 1 January and 20 June, there were 229 killings, of which 32 were civilians, 54 were government forces and 143 were militants.

One would have thought this would be a matter of grave concern for the British government, which has gone to great lengths to announce itself as a defender of human rights in recent months.

Earlier this year, Dominic Raab announced new sanctions on human rights abusers. A move he said was “a demonstration of Global Britain’s commitment to acting as a force for good in the world.”

The Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office embarked on a highly publicised campaign to protect worldwide media freedoms last year. It constantly uses social media to warn, for example, that “journalists are under attack across the world, threatening basic human rights such as freedom of expression.”

But Raab and the government’s words on Kashmir have been conspicuously sotto voce.

At the time of the revocation in August last year, Raab “expressed concern” to India about their actions, but no action was taken.

Britain’s then high commissioner to India, Sir Dominic Asquith, was similarly limp.

He said the “UK’s position has not changed one degree….We are no different today than we were a year ago, which is, the question of Kashmir has to be sorted out bilaterally between Indian government and Pakistani government, taking into account the wishes of Kashmiri people.”

The government’s position appears to be unchanged, as Nigel Adams, the Asia Minister, made clear. Responding to a written question in July saying it was for India and Pakistan “to find a lasting political resolution on Kashmir”.

To sum up: the official policy of Boris Johnson’s government has been to ignore the Kashmir issue. And pretend that it does not exist.

Hence the importance of the resuscitation of “The Conservative Friends of Kashmir” group in September.

This comprises a group of nine Tory MPs. They tend to have one thing in common: a significant number of Muslim voters in their constituencies.

Many are in areas of Yorkshire or the North West with high Muslim and Pakistani populations, including Mark Eastwood, MP for Dewsbury.

The so-called ‘Red Wall’ seats in the north of England do not just contain a large number of white working class voters. Large numbers of Muslim voters live in them too.

Marco Longhi is MP for the red wall seat of Dudley North in the West Midlands, another region with a large Muslim and Pakistani population. He’s part of the group.

Another member, Steve Baker, is MP for Wycombe where, according to the last census, 13.4% of the constituency are Muslim and 11.8 per cent are Pakistani.

There are more than a million British Pakistanis. Many of whom hail from Kashmir. As many as 70 per cent have been estimated to originate from the Mirpur district of Azad Kashmir, which is administered by Pakistan.

Many British Pakistanis maintain close ties to family in Kashmir. They view the situation in India-administered Kashmir as a great injustice and a burning issue.

And it’s now becoming an issue for certain Conservative MPs keen to hold onto their seats. These MPs are not helped by a foreign policy which gives the appearance of kowtowing to Narendra Modi’s BJP government.

The chairman of Conservative Friends of Kashmir is Peterborough MP, Paul Bristow – another area where the Muslim population of 9.4 per cent is above the national average.

When we rang him last week, he told us that “we’ve left the Kashmir issue to the Labour party and that can’t happen anymore.”

“The fact that a much more aggressive India has abandoned any attempt to be a secular government, combined with basic issues of human rights, means that Kashmir is now an issue for us,” he said.

He stressed how he felt when talking to his constituents who can’t talk to family and friends back in Kashmir.

He told us that his organisation was there to encourage more people from the Kashmiri diaspora into his party’s fold, rather than take a stance on the politics of the region. “We are making it clear that the Conservative Party is for them too.”

But talking about his own views on the UK Government’s foreign policy, he outlined three main objectives. “We need to shine a spotlight on human rights issues in Kashmir.

“We also need to raise the issue of self-determination. Britain doesn’t just say that sovereignty over the Falkland Islands is a matter between Britain and Argentina. We say it’s an international matter. The same should apply in Kashmir.”

“Thirdly, we need to take account of the views of people in Kashmir itself. Not to do so, is morally indefensible.”

These sentiments are bold. They put Bristow and some of those in his band of Tory MPs at odds with government policy. It’s no coincidence that they’ve already come under fierce attack from Bob Blackman, the MP for Harrow East.

Mr Blackman was awarded the Padma Shri award (perhaps the nearest thing India has to a British knighthood) from the Indian government earlier this year, and is a strong supporter of the Modi government.

He is on record defending Modi’s decision to revoke the special status of Kashmir and has previously encouraged voters to support Modi’s BJP party in elections in India.

Until now, Blackman has been far more reflective of Tory opinion than Bristow and his colleagues in the Kashmir group.

There are many reasons for this, including the need of post-Brexit Britain to maintain trading links with Modi’s India, to which must be added Islamophobic opinions among Tory members, with one recent poll finding nearly half of Conservative members believe Islam to be “a threat to the British way of life.”

But when I put these statistics to Paul Bristow, he pointed to the example of Peterborough, which has two Muslim Conservative councillors and a Muslim Conservative mayor. He is battling to build relations with British Muslims. Lets see how he gets on.

Viscount Trenchard: Why Japan’s new Prime Minister is good news for the UK

24 Oct

Viscount Trenchard is a Conservative peer and Vice Chairman of the British-Japanese Parliamentary Group

Last month, Yoshihide Suga replaced Japan’s longest serving Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe. Suga was Abe’s right hand man as Chief Cabinet Secretary, a political figure unfamiliar to many internationally, and as such regarded as a ‘continuity’ Prime Minister.

If true, this is good news for Britain, since under Abe, Anglo-Japanese relations improved steadily. Indeed, it is no coincidence that Britain’s first post-Brexit trade deal was struck with Japan. As a new Policy Exchange report by Alessio Patalano shows, Abe’s political legacy has set the ideal conditions for our two countries to work more closely together on matters ranging from trade to defence.

I remember my first meeting with Abe, in 1989, at what we might call a ‘society wedding’ in Fukuoka, Japan, at which he had to sit next to me for some four hours. At the time he was secretary to his father, Shintaro Abe, a former Foreign Minister. I had no premonition at the time of the huge contribution that he would make to the standing of Japan in international organisations, such as the G7 and G20. In this achievement, and in strengthening the role of the Prime Minister’s office, Abe was greatly assisted by Suga –someone who is free of dynastic and factional affiliations.

This is why I think it would be a mistake to consider Suga as simply a continuity or caretaker Prime Minister. Suga is a man of relatively modest origins with strong determination. In Japan, he is known for his work ethic. He frequently chairs meetings at weekends and has a robust fitness routine – 200 sit-ups and a 40-minute walk every day. He is well-respected by all at the Japanese Cabinet Office and is likely to use the coming months to strengthen his leadership of the party. It is no coincidence, for example, that Taro Kono, a rising star in Japan with prior experience as Foreign and Defence Minister, was nominated as the new Administrative Reform Minister.

What does a Suga administration mean for Britain? During Abe’s tenure, the two governments established a direct hotline, and learned to share information and compare notes on critical international issues. Today, Kono maintains strong ties in the British political landscape, although Toshimitsu Motegi, the Foreign Minister, is also an important figure, given his experience in negotiating the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP.

Suga knows that in Britain, Japan has a very important partner in trade, in promoting the rule of law, and in supporting international stability, and is regarded as a key partner in the country’s increased involvement in the Indo-Pacific region.

This is why a Suga cabinet is a genuine opportunity for Britain. In a post-Brexit landscape, the UK should take advantage of the recent bilateral deal and proactively pursue joining the CPTPP. Joining this vast free trade area at a time in which its modus operandi is still being developed will allow the UK to contribute to shape – together with Japan and other key actors – its potential. As the United States may review its current position on the agreement in the future, a timely British application would reap early benefits in terms of influence.

Similarly, the British Government should make it a priority to reach out to Japan to engage in a detailed conversation about the future of the Horizon nuclear power project – especially in light of recent concerns about the involvement of the Chinese state-backed CGN in Britain’s nuclear sector. The ‘levelling-up’ agenda of the British government led by Boris Johnson will appeal to Suga, a self-made man from Akita Prefecture in the north of Japan.

On matters of foreign and security policy, the Suga administration offers no less of an opportunity for Britain. Japan has been leading together with our closest security partners, notably the United States and the Australia, the conversation about why we are now living through an Indo-Pacific century. The management of ocean resources and environmental stability, of critical sea-lanes linking Europe to Northeast Asia, all give this region a maritime core that plays to Britain’s traditional role as custodian of the international maritime order. A partnership with Japan should be pursued with the understanding that the development of future capabilities will benefit from growing interoperability and integration.

This would not be a first, rather a rediscovery. The Japanese fleet that vanquished the Russian Baltic Fleet in 1905 was built – by and large – in Britain. Today, whether in the context of solid support ships, or next generation fighters, Britain and Japan stand to gain from working together in developing the ideas, actions, and tools of security.

By the same token, Britain represents a unique partner for a Suga administration that wishes to build upon the Abe legacy. On immediate priorities for the Japanese Government, London remains an important reference in the challenge of hosting the Olympic Games, and Britain continues to be a leading player both in the race to obtain a viable Covid-19 vaccine and in science and technology more broadly. But in trade and defence too there are many areas where both countries should continue to learn from each other and work together.

John Howell: It is time for Britain to take the Council of Europe more seriously

9 Oct

John Howell is the Member of Parliament for Henley, and a Member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

“Why are we still in the Council of Europe when we have left the EU?” was a question put to me by a colleague in the Conservative Parliamentary Party.

I tried to explain that the Council of Europe was not and had never been part of the EU. That it did things in a very different way to the EU and was almost twice the size of the EU, with some 47 members. That it had made a long and valuable contribution to peace and security across Europe.  I also tried to point out that no country had become a member of the EU without first being part of the Council of Europe.

In the end, I fell back on our old mantra that was simple and yet to the point. We were in the Council of Europe because while we had left the EU we had not left Europe, and this was now one of the most important ways of keeping contact across the continent and playing our part in seeing what positions needed a common view on European issues.

I could have also pointed our that the Council looks after the European Court of Human Rights (which is not and has never been part of the EU) and to which, as a member of the UK’s parliamentary delegation to the Council, I help elect the judges.

The conversation went on. “So, what has the Council of Europe ever done for us?” asked my colleague. The Council was set up to ensure that human rights prevail across Europe. It is the leading human rights organisation in Europe and most of what it does, it does through the prism of human rights. But it also stands up for democracy and for the rule of law.

On a statutory basis the Council does not legislate itself. There is no equivalent of the EU Commission giving instruction. What the Council does is set the standards that member states can apply through individual conventions or treaties that come through in member states’ domestic legislation.

It was, for example, the Council which started the debate about human trafficking which has come forward into UK domestic legislation and is at the centre of our foreign policy. It was also the Council which tackled the problem of protections for children and to ensure that they are kept safe from violence and exploitation. The Convention for the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse came into force on 1 July 2010 and aims to prevent the sexual abuse of children, including at home or in the family.

Another area with which I am very involved is in monitoring human rights in Turkey. Keeping Turkey on course is crucial to a Europe that is pacific and calm. Unfortunately, at the moment we have a situation where lawyers in Turkey are being attacked by the Government and given heavy prison sentences for defending what are seen as “terrorism-related” individuals. Lawyers should not be criminalised for exercising their profession or convicted on dubious charge,s and we are putting pressure on Turkey to review these convictions.

In addition, the Council of Europe played a pioneering role in the struggle for the abolition of capital punishment. I have long opposed the death penalty and regard it as having no place in democratic society. The abolition of the death penalty is a precondition for accession to the Council. No executions have been carried out in any of the member states since 1997. I know that there are some in this country who take a different view, but I am not going to go into that here.

Some of the other ways in which the Council of Europe operates include scrutiny through a system of specific committees. It can also question Ministers, Prime Ministers and Presidents of member states. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has in the past been questioned in this capacity.

On the question of upholding democracy, the Council conducts monitoring of elections around Europe to ensure that they are fair and free. This is a crucial element of the Council’s work to make sure that all countries conform with proper election practice. My suggestion, though, that the Council should monitor the last set of EU elections did not go down terribly well!

It also looks to take a common view on certain key issues such as the recent elections in Belarus and the role of Russia in a modern Europe. Belarus is not a member of the Council; it has not given up the death penalty. But the current post-election situation needs to be exposed, which the Council is doing.

Similarly, with the rule of law it has a body of legal experts known as the Venice Commission to which laws, such as the new laws in Russia, can be put for opinion as to whether they meet modern standards in human rights, the rule of law and democracy.

In addition, the Council of Europe has as associate members two groups which may cause surprise – Israel and the Palestinians. Sadly, Israel is often treated with nothing short of anti-Semitism by certain sections of the parliamentary assembly of the Council. Both groups tend to give predictable speeches about issues that affect them. But just imagine what could be achieved if we could organise meetings where the Council tried to bring them together to talk about peace in the region and how to deal with settlements.

Finally, I want to touch on the European Court of Human Rights. As one former Lord Chancellor made clear in answer to a question I had put, this is a court where we have well over a 90 per cent success rate. That is, many cases are simply not brought for hearing but are dismissed before they are even heard. This is no wonder when we have a judicial system that is so advanced and developed and a model of judicial approach.

States also have the power to derogate from individual elements of the European Convention on Human Rights provided they meet a number of conditions. The first of these is that there is a war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nation. The situation with regard to Covid-19 has raised issues in this respect, but illustrates that the Convention is meant to be practical.

The Council of Europe was formed in 1949. The United Kingdom was foremost amongst its ten founding members and, under the leadership of Winston Churchill, the inspiration for its creation. It is part of the rules-based order in which we invest so much time and energy. It is often accused of being just a talking shop. But there is real value in having a place where major issues that face our continent can be talked through to see whether a common line is required and what that line should be.

And yet, whilst it is almost revered across much of Europe, this country rarely sends even a journalist to cover its proceedings. It is necessary not only to take this organisation seriously but also to continue to show the real leadership it needs

Iain Dale: Good luck to Robbie Gibb’s prospective challenger to the BBC and Sky. And to News UK if it has a go, too.

4 Sep

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.

On Wednesday, the German government declared that the Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, had indeed be poisoned, and that the nerve agent used was Novichok.

Predictably the Kremlin denied any involvement whatsoever, thereby taking the West for fools yet again. Novichok appears to have become the poison of choice for the Russian Government’s Federal Security Service (FSB). For an apparently developed country to sanction the use of chemical weapons against its own citizens is both unconscionable, and tells us a lot about the ruthlessness of Valdimir Putin.

It is inconceivable that he doesn’t know it is going on, whether or not he gives the direct orders or not. After Salisbury, he could have read the riot act to his former colleagues in the FSB and said: ‘Never again’. He chose not to – and the poisoning of his main political opponent is the result.

So what should the response be? When he was Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson did brilliantly to persuade 20 countries to expel more than 130 Russian diplomats. That was fine, but it didn’t go far enough. All western countries should now impose the most severe Magnitsky sanctions possible against all senior members of the FSB and every single member of the Russian cabinet, including Putin himself.

Germany will be key here. Angela Merkel has enjoyed a better relationship with Putin than most western leaders, and Russia and Germany enjoy economic ties which Britain and Russia do not have.

For Germany to take serious measures against the Kremlin may be the jolt that Putin needs if he is to re-evaluate his ‘poison policy’. Or he may respond by threatening to switch off the supply of gas to Western Europe. If you appease people like Putin, they just laugh at you. The time for serious action is now.

– – – – – – – – – –

I’ve enjoyed reading Philip Collins in The Times over the last twelve years. Sadly he’s been let go as a weekly columnist, but by most standards he’s had a good innings.

He fired off a parting shot email which was particularly ill-judged and ungracious. Rather than thank The Times for giving him the space to air his views over twelve years, he complained that he’d been let go in a thirty second conversation.

Galling, yes, but it’s always better to leave with your head held high, even if you think your benefactors have made a huge mistake. Bitterness is never a good look.

All columnists, and radio presenters for that matter, know that as each hour passes, their day of departure looms ever nearer. I’ve been on LBC for eleven years now. I hope when my time comes I conduct myself with due decorum, but also  hope that day is a long way off!

– – – – – – – – – –

It is rumoured that two more news channels may appear on our screens before too long. There’s little doubt that there is growing dissatisfaction with the news coverage provided by Sky and the BBC, but there is a big question-mark over whether the news viewing market is big enough to sustain new entrants. And would a news channel with a centre-right slant be able to garner enough of an audience to make it commercially viable?

GB News (let’s hope that if it gets on air it has a snappier name) is led by Robbie Gibb and an ex-head of Sky Australia. News UK is also rumoured to be planning something similar.

Both are at pains to say their vision does not involve becoming a UK version of Fox News. Would conventional advertisers be flocking to advertise on a right of centre TV channel? They advertise in right of centre newspapers, so there is no reason why not, I suppose, but I suspect they will take some convincing.

Whoever the financial backers of these channels may be will need to have some very deep pockets indeed to get them through the initial few years. Running costs will go into the tens of millions of pounds. I wish both enterprises luck, because competition is always good, and new entrants to a market can help shake the existing channels out of their rank complacency.

I remember that when Stephan Shakespeare, Tim Montgomerie, Donal Blaney and I started 18 Doughty Street TV in 2006 how difficult it was to build an audience. In those days few people watched video, live or not, on their laptops. Smartphones hadn’t then been invented. In retrospect, we were ten years ahead of our time. Such a channel would do really well nowadays, I suspect.

Tom Tugendhat: It’s time for the Government to stand with its allies – and stand up to Iran

26 Aug

Tom Tugendhat is Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and is MP for Tonbridge and Malling.

Israel is losing its reputation in the Middle East. For decades, it played the role of chief villain with nations around the region blaming Mossad for every mishap. Today, Jerusalem is a partner with the United Arab Emirates – just the latest of many to build ties to Jerusalem and seek cooperation.

Jordan and Egypt are about to be joined by some or all of Bahrain, Oman, Sudan. Even Saudi Arabia, while insisting that the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative remains the basis of its policy, is making sympathetic noises. Arab popular opinion may still find Israel a difficult issue. But the higher-level dynamics are changing, as new interest-based alignments emerge blinking into the light of day.

Tehran is seeing to that. Over the past decade or so, Britain’s friends and partners have focussed on one thing – the threat of violent Iranian subversion and perhaps direct attack.

From Syria to Yemen, Arab states know well the danger that Iran poses. Militias paid for by Tehran and controlled by the Revolutionary Guard Corps have turned tension into conflict, and fuelled wars that have cost hundreds of thousands of lives and destroyed whole countries.

That makes the UK’s recent UN vote even more surprising. On 14 August we, along with France, Germany, Belgium and Estonia, abstained on a motion to extend the UN arms embargo on Iran. Only the United States and the Dominican Republic voted in favour.

As Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht-Ravanchi, put it: “the result of the vote in [the UNSC] on arms embargo against Iran shows—once more—the US’ isolation.” It’s hard to argue that’s in Britain’s interest. Even less so, given how many of our regional allies are counting on us to hold the line.

Should the embargo end, the next step is clear: Iran will be looking to buy Russian or Chinese air defence weapons to put around the nuclear plants that it has long believed is essential to the regime’s survival. The International Atomic Energy Agency has already confirmed that Iran has increased its low-enriched uranium stockpile to more than 300 kilograms, enriched uranium to a purity greater than 3.67 percent, stored excess heavy water, tested advanced centrifuges, refused inspections into suspected nuclear sites and may be concealing more undeclared nuclear materials and activities.

It will seek to accelerate the development of its ballistic missile programme, particularly in the area of guidance systems. It will become even more aggressive in cyberspace. And it will redouble its political and material support for the Shia militias that are corruptly colonising Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Again, it’s hard to see how that helps Britain.

Over the past four years, the approach of the Trump Administration can hardly be described as diplomatic but, despite its tone, its respose to the clear violations of the Iranian regime is based on the actions it’s seeing in Tehran. The UK, by contrast, seems to have an Iran policy more focussed on remaining close to European allies (with a disdain for the current US administration) than on the actions of the dictatorship in Tehran.

That decision to abstain puts us even further apart from our most important security partner and regional allies – undermining a global approach, and pushing us firmly back towards the EU we have just left. Worse, it risks raising questions about the veto that none of us would like to have posed.

Now that the US has lost the vote on renewing the embargo, the White House will, no doubt, use the so-called snapback mechanism to reimpose sanctions as agreed in a 2015 United Nations Security Council Resolution (SCR). This poses a problem for us.

The snapback mechanism included in SCR 2231 allows participants in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran deal’s full name) to reimpose sanctions unilaterally. In 2018, the US withdrew from the deal, so some – Russia and China, no doubt – will claim that Washington can no longer trigger the snapback. UK, France, and others will have to decide: is the deal worth it?

Blocking or even abstaining on the likely vote against the US’s determination to trigger a snapback would undermine the alliance and weaken the UN. The temporary relief of allowing the Iran deal to continue, with the UK standing alongside European allies against the Trump White House, would be overwhelmed in coming years, since no US administration could accept being bound into a UN system without a veto.

“Iran continues to conduct ballistic missile activity that is inconsistent with SCR 2231.” Karen Pierce, our Ambassador to the United States, said in June 2019. That hasn’t changed. But nor has the UK’s posture. We continue to try to perform the diplomatic splits – denouncing Iran, but at the same time remaining committed to a JCPOA that has been consistently violated by Tehran and effectively abandoned by the US.

Iran continues to hold British hostages, most notably Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe, and spread terror in the region. In Iraq, its militia allies are assassinating young activists – female and male – with impunity.  They are rocketing Baghdad’s Green Zone and bombing military convoys, with the aim of humiliating the new Prime Minister, Mustafa al Kadhimi, and showing him he cannot depend on the US – or any other Western power – for his survival.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah clearly thinks it will not be held to account for the assassination of Rafiq al Hariri in 2005 or for the massive recent explosion at Beirut’s port.

In Syria, Iran has saved the murderous Bashar al Assad and will want rewarding. Some of the militias it has deployed there recently held a public event in Mashhad to advertise their successes, and announce that Jerusalem was their next target.

And now Tehran is offering Beijing privileged access to its energy resources and perhaps also a trading and naval base on the Indian Ocean. None of this is in our interests. But instead of siding with our allies and giving ourselves more leverage over a dictatorship that respects nothing but strength, we are remaining wedded to a deal that has become irrelevant to the two principal signatories.

The time has come for us to change policy. Even under the Obama administration, it is far from certain the JCPOA would have endured as US strategic interests – no matter who is in the White House – lie with regional allies, not the Iranian autocrats, and it seems unlikely that a new Democratic administration would attempt to breathe life into the deal.

The UK should now be joining the US in calling out the real threat to peace in the Middle East and standing with our friends in the region—from Abu Dhabi to Jerusalem. We need to defend the principles of international cooperation, not see them used as a fig leaf for human rights violations, war and nuclear proliferation.

If we’re going to convince allies around the world our place at the UN Security Council works for them and defends our common interest in a world based on agreements, our policy on Iran has got to change. Abstaining shows we’re not prepared to stand up for our friends and won’t stand with our allies – and that weakens everyone, but most of all us.

Benedict Rogers: It’s time for Raab to bring Magnitsky sanctions to bear on those oppressing Hong Kong

25 Aug

Benedict Rogers is co-founder and Chair of Hong Kong Watch, co-founder and Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission.

It is not often that one sees Iain Duncan Smith, John McDonnell, Natalie Bennett, Andrew Adonis, Alistair Carmichael and the Scottish Nationalists on the same page.

Bringing the former Conservative Party leader and Brexiteer together with the former Labour Shadow Chancellor, the former Green Party leader, the former Labour minister and leading Remainer, the Liberal Democrats foreign affairs spokesperson, and two SNP MPs is an achievement – and as far as I can see it is Carrie Lam’s, the Hong Kong Chief Executive, only achievement.

Last week these politicians, together with David Davis, the former Brexit Secretary, Helena Kennedy, a leading human rights barrister and Labour peer, and 12 other Parliamentarians, wrote to the Foreign Secretary in support of calls for the imposition of targeted Magnitsky sanctions against Hong Kong and Chinese government officials responsible for grave human rights violations and a flagrant breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.

Their letter follows a personal appeal to Dominic Raab by Nathan Law, the highest-profile pro-democracy activist to escape Hong Kong since the imposition of the new draconian national security law on 1 July.

In 2016, Law was elected Hong Kong’s youngest ever legislator, at the age of 23, but was disqualified the following year for quoting Mahatma Gandhi when he took his oath of office. He was then sentenced to eight months in jail for his role in leading the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement protests. In his letter, Law writes:

As a party to the legally binding Sino British Joint Declaration, the United Kingdom holds a unique position in advocating for Hong Kong. I earnestly hope that the UK government would take the important step to sanction Ms Carrie Lam and other officials involved, so to send a clear signal –– not just to Beijing, but also to other countries in the free world that we ought to stand firm against an oppressive regime which disrespects both their citizens’ rights and the international norms.  Please safeguard our shared belief in freedom and human rights as well as the pursuit of democracy in Hong Kong. Please stand with Hong Kong.”

Since the imposition of the national security law on Hong Kong by Beijing, Britain has responded robustly, by announcing a generous package to allow Hong Kongers who hold British National Overseas (BNO) passports to come to the UK on a “pathway to citizenship”, and by suspending our extradition agreement with Hong Kong. These are very welcome steps, but there is much more than needs to be done.

Although the new law has only been in place for less than two months, we are already seeing its dramatic impact on Hong Kong. The arrest of several prominent activists, particularly the entrepreneur and media proprieter Jimmy Lai, the police raid on his pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper, and the arrest of Law’s colleague Agnes Chow and ITN reporter Wilson Li; the issuing of arrest warrants for six Hong Kong activists outside Hong Kong, including Law; and the banning of slogans, the withdrawal of pro-democracy books from libraries and the censorship of school textbooks; all indicate the end of Hong Kong’s autonomy under “one country, two systems” and the destruction of the city’s fundamental rights and freedoms.

It is right for the British Government to respond to events proportionately, and with a staggered approach. There is no point in firing all our ammunition in one go, and then having nothing left to deploy. But the events in Hong Kong in recent weeks require a response that goes beyond rhetoric. That’s why it is time for targeted sanctions.

The United States has already imposed its Magnitsky sanctions on Lam and other officials, but it is vital that the international community act in as united and co-ordinated a way as possible. Hong Kong must not become – or even be perceived to be – a pawn in a US-China fight, but rather as the front line in the fight for freedom and the international rules-based order.

For that reason, the rest of the free world has a duty to act, and as the co-signatory of the Joint Declaration guaranteeing Hong Kong’s continued autonomy, it is right that Britain should lead the way.

Our Magnitsky sanctions legislation is now in place, and so far 49 individuals from Russia, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, and Burma are on the list. Raab is one of the architects of this legislation – dating back to his days on the backbenches when he championed the idea – and he is said to regard it as a legacy issue. So he has every interest in ensuring that this sanctions regime is meaningful.

To do that, those responsible for dismantling freedoms in Hong Kong, once one of Asia’s most open cities, and the violation of an international treaty – as well as those perpetrating some of the 21st Century’s most egregious atrocity crimes against the Uyghurs – must be held to account. If Lam cannot be sanctioned for presiding over a year of shocking police brutality and repression, who can?

So the 19 Parliamentarians who signed this letter are right to declare: “We stand with Nathan in this appeal.” I do too, and I hope that the Foreign Secretary will act soon.